October 19, 2010

End of an era

Today is the traditional date given to the Battle of Zama in 202 BC, when Scipio Africanus defeated Hannibal in the Second Punic (Phoenician) War, effectively ending the 600-year hegemony of the Carthaginians over the Mediterranean.

Carthage today

It was Phoenicians – under Queen Dido – who had settled the Tunisian coast and built the city of Carthage. (Dido had left Tyre after her brother Pygmalion killed her husband.) Centuries later Hannibal tried – and nearly succeeded – to bring down the Roman Republic.

Hannibal wasn’t in Carthage – modern-day Tunisia – when he began his campaign, but in New Carthage on the southern coast of Spain.  He fought his way up the Iberian peninsula, through the Pyrenees, across Gaul (France) and over the Alps – yes, with war elephants – and into northern Italy where he scored several major victories and harassed the Romans for almost fifteen years.

Finally, the Romans attacked Carthage, which got Hannibal home pretty quick, but he was outnumbered and outmaneuvered by Scipio at Zama outside the city.  Tunisia has had its ups and downs since then and currently is ruled by a fairly authoritarian regime, as shown below, where lighter equals more democratic:

The 2008 Democracy Index from The Economist

Tunisia is the little bump at the top of Africa that almost touches the boot of Italy. And here’s another nice map from Reporters Without Borders:

Press Freedom rankings

What’s really interesting about these maps is not that Tunisia is authoritarian without much freedom of the press, but that the U.S. is not first in either democracy or press freedom.

O Canada.

* * *

A great mathematician died last week and unlike most professionals in the field, he created something we can all enjoy.  His name was Benoit Mandelbrot and he made fractals famous.  He also made significant contributions to the fields of mathematical physics and quantitative finance, but this is an irresistible tribute:

Seahorse fractal created by Wolfgang Beyer with Ultra Fractal 3.




  1. Love the fractal, & more great story telling. Hannibal wow man love it!


    Comment by avery — October 20, 2010 @ 9:18 am | Reply

  2. I looove fractals! Thank you Benoit Mandelbrot!


    Comment by Nina — October 20, 2010 @ 11:31 am | Reply

  3. I wonder if it is our Electoral College, the check on direct election in presidential elections, which downgrades the democratic ranking of the U.S. – Celia


    Comment by Celia Carroll — October 20, 2010 @ 8:54 pm | Reply

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